WAILLY, Charles de
(b. 1729, Paris, d. 1798, Paris)

Entrance façade

Théâtre de l'Odéon, Paris

From the 1740s, enormous influence was wielded on the development of French secular architecture by the "Roman scholars." They constituted a counterweight to the formal grammar of Ange-Jacques Gabriel and Jacques-Denis Antoine based on the tradition of French classicism and pre-classicism. They were all "pensionnaires" at the French Academy in Rome during the decade of the 1750s intensively studying the buildings of Antiquity, but also looking at the works of Michelangelo and Bernini. They translated the buildings they admired in Italy not into engravings or temporary decoration, but into workable architectural designs. When they returned to France, the ex-scholars popularised the "style grec", an imaginative and successful mixture of features derived from Antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, thus preparing the way for Neoclassicism. Their buildings began to appear in France form the late 1750s until well into the 1780s. Marie-Joseph Peyre, Charles de Wailly and Pierre-Louis Moreau-Desproux belonged to this group.

One of the most demanding projects by this younger generation of architects in Paris was the construction of the Comédie Française, now the Théâtre de l'Odéon. The first plan for this were submitted in 1769 by Marie-Joseph Peyre and Charles de Wailly. After initially experimenting with a circular auditorium, the auditorium was lengthened into an oval and clad in a rectangular exterior. With its taut rustication and portico of Tuscan columns beneath a tall attic - a novel, horizontally terminated but monumental type of portico - Peyre's broad façade reveals a strictly architectural conception. In contrast, the (now altered) interior with its splendid furnishings bore witness to the rich decorative and theatrical imagination of de Wailly.